Tibetan Refugee Reception Center

The Tibetan Refugee Reception Center in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Jonathan Green)

Nepal handed over a Tibetan man in his twenties to Chinese authorities today after he was taken into custody during a February 23 late-night raid by 50 to 60 armed police on the Tibetan Refugee Reception Center. The center is administered by the Lutheran World Federation and funded by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The excessive show of police force was unprecedented at the Kathmandu center, a place where emergency humanitarian assistance is provided to Tibetan refugees transiting to India after escaping from Tibet. Twenty-seven year old Tsering Dhundup from Qinghai Province was held in a cell by the Nepalese immigration department before being handed back to the Chinese authorities at the Tibet-Nepal border at 4:15 pm local time today (5:30 am EST).

Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said today: “We are alarmed by the intimidating nature of the late night police raid on Tibetan refugees who are vulnerable to scare tactics, having just escaped repression in Tibet. The show of force was likely staged for a Chinese government audience, which apparently determines Nepal’s policies with regard to Tibetans.”

The raid on the Reception Center took place on Saturday night at around 10:30 pm local time when between 50 and 60 Nepalese police, some in plain clothes, entered and headed for one of the male dormitories. They searched beds where Tibetan refugees were sleeping until they located 27-year old Tsering Dhundup, from Bayan Khar Hui Autonomous County (Chinese: Hualong Hui Autonomous County) in Tsoshar (Haidong) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, confirming his identity with a photograph. Tsering Dhundup was taken into custody and handcuffed in a cell at the offices of the immigration authorities, who also took a statement from him through an interpreter.

Tsering Dhundup’s detention by the Nepalese authorities was apparently linked to allegations that he had been involved in stabbing a Chinese man in Tibet. There are serious concerns for the outcome of his case given the use of torture and the lack of due process in legal proceedings in China and Tibet.

This latest situation indicates the increasing vulnerability of Tibetans in Nepal due to Chinese influence on Kathmandu – particularly following the 2005 closures of the Office of the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Welfare Office in Kathmandu, both critical to the welfare of Tibetans in Nepal and an established presence there since the 1960s.

Earlier in February, the Nepal Supreme Court ruled against the registration of the Bhota Welfare Society, a Nepalese run NGO intended to provide community and humanitarian services to both long-staying and newly arrived Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu had made known to the court its opposition to the registration, accusing the NGO of being an operation of the “Dalai clique”.

Around 2500 to 3500 Tibetans make the dangerous crossing through the Himalayas into exile in Nepal, and from there to India, each year. In 2006 and 2007, fewer traveled into Nepal compared to 2004 and 2005. For many, the main or only purpose of their journey is to see their religious leader, the Dalai Lama. A high percentage of the new refugees are children sent by their parents to study in Tibetan exile schools due to inadequate or unaffordable schools in Tibet, and monks and nuns seeking to practice their religion in exile due to persecution in Tibet.

China’s acute sensitivity over Tibet continues to be the primary feature of China-Nepal relations, and there is continued concern over the possibility of refoulements, often due to the close relationships cultivated between Chinese border guards and their counterparts on the Nepalese side of the border. Tibetans caught attempting to escape from Tibet or to re-enter Tibet after a period in exile are at risk of torture and imprisonment. A group of Tibetans who were refouled from Kathmandu in a high-profile case in May 2003 reported being beaten and forced to carry out hard labor in prison.

Several high-level Chinese delegations have visited Kathmandu in recently months and the Nepalese authorities have reiterated their commitment not to tolerate ‘anti-China’ activities on its soil, while China continued to prioritize security and surveillance of the Tibet-Nepal border.